For much of this decade, the modern sound of success has been this.
“Please place your item in the bagging area.”
Four All Irelands. All hollow. All bought. All laden down with a great, big asterisk.
For a few brief moments yesterday, it seemed that was about to change. A flicker of salvation? Very nearly.
Kerry deserve endless credit for taking Dublin to the ropes and pummeling them with a barrage of wild and vicious hooks and uppercuts, however their inability to knock them out before the final bell will be telling. They’ll pay a heavy price for that come the rematch and it’s hard not to get the feeling they’ve become the Liverpool of football, or simply replaced Mayo as the loveable bridesmaids. Raging against the machine and its money, but without the titles to show for it.
This is one that got away. As so much went their way.
David Gough may have balanced out a wrong penalty call with a wrong penalty refusal in the second half, but most telling was that red card. Jonny Cooper was getting roasted but for two actual fouls, to be sent off so soon was a little harsh. As for consistency, such an application of the rules might have seen Tom O’Sullivan join him later on. Many of those the Na Fianna player left behind on the pitch didn’t perform either with Brian Fenton and James McCarthy particular disappointments. Meanwhile, it’s rare you can say that they survived in spite, rather than because, of Jim Gavin.
Leaving his full-back on David Clifford for so long was criminal although it wasn’t the only error. With that bench, how Paul Mannion – who wasn’t so much anonymous as atrocious – lasted for way over an hour was baffling. As for Diarmuid Connolly replacing the brilliant Brian Howard who was perhaps their second or third best player, it didn’t add up.
Yet still, they weren’t put away.
It meant that this ultimately was the perfect day for the association. The real winners here.
They get the ticket sales of another hyped-up sell-out. They will get their cash-cow and favourite son making history with that five-in-a-row, even if it’s behind schedule. And best of all they now have a result and a team to point to and say there remains actual competition and thus financial doping around the capital is all good. That cannot be allowed to happen.
For if it does, while no one lost on the pitch, the game will have lost badly off of it.
* * *
During the build-up to this decider, it was interesting and grim to see how far some people were willing to go in terms of self-humiliation and vast delusion in order to keep living out the lie.
There was Mossy telling us we weren’t allowed to talk about the elephant smoking a cigar on the sofa from his role as Dublin marketing manager. There was Dessie demanding we acknowledge this as the greatest team of them all and refuting context. There was Charlie saying that games alien to culchies like basketball and golf needed to be staved off in the big smoke. There was Vinny beating his chest with closed fists and loud grunts. There was Alan waxing lyrical about the rare auld times and the hard old times when outside of Kerry no other place has had as many days to celebrate.
It wasn’t just those from there either with apologists like Joe Brolly suggesting they simply have a different culture. The wider media played its part in that predictable but false narrative as well, never challenging as the Dublin market is so big and so valuable that it should be told what it wants to hear. Public relations masquerading as journalism. For shame.
Regardless of any result that all needs to be called out in the most withering of terms as does the GAA approach to what can still be a beautiful game. The wider public must not forget that the millions that continue to be pumped into Dublin isn’t suddenly okay because this was a draw. Take a look in the mirror and keep asking the serious questions. We must.
For a moment can you imagine if the NFL decided to remove the salary cap from the New York Giants alone, give them half of the draft picks each year, and allowed them to always play in MetLife Stadium? Do you think there’d be calls to further appreciate their wins in the New York Times? Can you imagine in France if Thomas Tuchel was called a hero by L’Équipe for taking Paris Saint-Germain to each and every league? That’s what we are doing. Indeed if you’ve ever felt a sense of unease at what Pep Guardiola is doing in Manchester and don’t question this, then you are a huge hypocrite.
For there are similarities. Dublin – an unofficial member of the City Football Group.
Of course, there’ll be desperation to conflate these truths with some sort of attack on the players when no one doubts their quality and they are widely regarded as a hard-working group of stand-up characters. But if the GAA’s attitude and actions aren’t their fault, it is undermining to them. A result cannot change that, only a change in association policy can.
If it had happened before now Kerry would be champions for this is in no way complicated.
For 15 years, since Bertie Ahern got on board and decided to give a dig out, they’ve been awash with endless resources. With the GAA footing the bill and taking care of their grassroots and underage development, and without the need to build a fit-for-purpose home ground or centre of excellence as they were provided by others, it has meant their multi-millions in sponsorship coming due to a population no one can match has been directed completely at their elite sector.
How many points that’s worth cannot be measured but we know it’s quite a few. The same sort of scores that would have seen this decade play out very differently. The same sort of scores that cost Kerry what they arguably deserved.
* * *
Little moments. The epics always leave us looking back at the little moments.
What if Clifford had his eye in for the first 10 minutes when a potential 0-3 got away from him?
What if Stephen Cluxton was pulled up for wandering actual metres off his line for the penalty and what if Paul Geaney hadn’t directed it at a good height for the keeper to palm it around the post?
What if Paul Murphy’s shot had been incredibly touched under or over, rather than onto, the bar?
What if Tommy Walsh hadn’t had almost too much time to think about his first shot of the day?
What if Gavin Crowley hadn’t needlessly gone in with his boot as Dublin were tamely heading away from goal?
What if Kerry hadn’t gone full-on 1982 and dropped deeper and deeper as they led late in the game?
What if they’d a kick-out strategy as it cost them the victory while Dublin’s was their salvation?
Granted, there was so much to take solace in.
Adrian Spillane and David Moran’s work-rate and tracking back caused the champions all sorts of hassle and led to all sorts of turnovers. Jack Barry was inspired, soaring throughout. Paul Geaney’s distribution was wondrous. Seán O’Shea’s accuracy was breath-taking. That lot had Dublin reeling and were it not for Howard’s shift and Jack McCaffrey’s performance – which even by his own standards was remarkable and worthy of man-of-the-match – they’d have won.
Maybe that’s for the best though for oddly the game needs Dublin to go on and win it again. Otherwise too many will fall silent, and we’ll be back to the beginning of the cycle, watching them win another four before the masses get upset.
It’s why many who traditionally roared against them as that was part of the divide and a cornerstone were actually hoping they’d do this. Not for any short-term enjoyment but for the longer-term good. At least we will get that in two weeks.
That doesn’t take away from what was a classic game for such enjoyment can co-exist with a push for equality. In fact such was the quality and amazing tension, it should remind us of what the game can be at its best, and see us want more of it.
A level-playing field is the first step.